I wrote about the NHS & social care in Cornwall because the problems seem to be hiding in plain sight. ——————————————————— This newspaper has been full of letters and articles about ambulances waiting in queues outside Royal Cornwall Hospital for months now. Queues of up to 30 ambulances are a regular sight at Treliske and an emergency ‘mobile unit’ in the carpark to hold 6 extra waiting patients has been hastily erected.
Last week I read about the mayor of Truro turning blue waiting for an ambulance; a 93 year old being told ‘there are no ambulances’; a 5 year old ‘not qualifying’ for an ambulance despite a broken arm. Waiting times for the most life-threatening conditions are about 3 times the target. Serious conditions, such as stroke or chest pain, which require rapid treatment within an hour, need ambulances within 18 minutes. Current average waiting times are around 3 hours 15 minutes. Some people report waiting for 2 days. It is inconceivable that some are not suffering serious harm or even death due to these delays.
The problem is not just Covid. Covid has made the situation more acute, visible and obvious. But in reality, the health service in Cornwall has been mainly on ‘black alert’ for years. The 4 hour maximum waiting time for emergency treatment introduced by Labour in 2004 hasn’t been met nationally since July 2015.
Despite new ‘reforms’ that describe our health and social care as one ‘system’, the system simply doesn’t yet work as one. There has been a stubborn failure by Government for years to see the vital connection between all component parts – healthcare, mental health, public health, social and community care. Those parts have been broken up and given to different Trusts, or in social care and public health’s case, to the Council. The Conservative’s austerity squeeze has meant that we currently have approximately 220 people in an acute hospital who could be cared for at home or in more suitable places which aren’t available. Community hospitals and private care homes have been closing. And roughly 100 of the homes that remain are now closed to new admissions because of soaring Covid outbreaks, exacerbated by the Government abruptly dropping all restrictions.
We have chronic workforce shortages and many staff sick with Covid. Health and social care relies on workers from other countries. The effect Brexit would have was wilfully ignored until too late and the Conservatives cut funding from people who wanted to train as nurses. Carers are paid less than NHS staff, so when the NHS, the tourism industry and the supermarkets recruit, we lose carers. The only way to prevent this happening is to pay carers what they’re worth. But a privatised care system of mainly women workers, funded on a shoestring by Government, has meant pay has stayed low for years and is in no fit state to rise to that challenge without government support.
There are many other issues I could have written about this week: the cost-of-living crisis, Covid, war in Ukraine, refugees. But it is time to bluntly call out what we have all been witnessing for too long. Under the Conservatives, despite the valiant efforts of incredible staff working under intense pressure, the healthcare system in Cornwall is desperately struggling. Our health and care leaders need tangible help and long-term support from central government, rather than the sticking plasters of tents in the hospital carpark and hotels being turned into winter hospital wards. And they need it now.